Shikarpur lithic assemblage: New questions regarding Rohri chert blade production

"Shikarpur [in Gujarat] has emerged as a very important coastal Harappan site," write the authors. "After six years of excavations the evidence found from this site strongly points towards a society which was very affluent and most probably was actively involved in trade and exchange networks with other Harappan sites. Stratigraphically Shikarpur has not revealed existence of any other culture or community before the Harappan settlement. Thus most probably this place was chosen and a town was established here due to its strategic geographical position. The same has been done at the site of Bagasra which is situated across the Gulf of Kachchh. Both the sites have yielded evidence of being involved in various craft activities. It has traditionally widely accepted that these Harappan settlements in Gujarat were established as part of concerted colonization of the region undertaken in order to exploit natural recourses such as marine shell and semiprecious stone which were not available in the Indus valley. This model implies that the economies of these Harappan settlements functioned as integral components of an economic system organized at regional level (Bhan and Ajithprasad 2008)" (p. 147).

The intriguing question this paper takes on is whether or not chert blade (also known as flint, used for lighting fires) production could have taken place here, 500 km as the crow flies from the Rohri Flint Quarries, a massive site with evidence for mining going back hundreds of thousands of years and covered in detail by numerous scholars. Transporting chert to Shikarpur would have been a complex undertaking, whether by land or down the Indus and then along the coast, which is why Rohri flint was usually processed at the site or nearby before being shipped elsewhere in the ancient Indus region. Shikarpur may have been an exception however, and this article takes on the evidence and why this may have happened, concluding:

"Discovery of so many fragments of Rohri chert blades certainly puts Shikarpur in a category different from the other sites. Such a large number of Rohri chert blades have not been reported, till today, from any other Harappan site in Gujarat. Discovery of these blades which are clearly manufactured in the Rohri hill quarries and were imported to Shikarpur and the few pieces of lithic debitage assemblage recovered from the site forces a lot of questions upon a researcher. Not denying a minor-scale local production of Rohri chert blade manufacturing at the site we would like to propose another hypothesis. Could this be evidence of some merchant –artisan’s efforts, who was trying a small-scale production of Rohri chert blades from raw material brought down from the Indus valley? This kind of occurrence is generally seen in craft production. A lot of time merchants or traders see an exotic or valuable object and they wish to produce the same locally. They bring raw material with them, show finished products and explain the procedure to a craftsman and ask him or her to replicate the product. Was this what was going on at Shikarpur? This challenging puzzle needs to be solved" (p. 147-48).

Image: Lithic blades from Shikarpur